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Trending: Shifts in Employee Benefits and Communication

By Annie George

Posted on 21 Nov 11

I’ve been reading a lot lately about the shifts taking place in corporate America’s employee benefit strategy, and how the need for communicating these benefits is more important than ever. The changes we’re seeing are as result of a number of factors, including the need for employers to find ways to reduce healthcare and other benefit costs while still providing a package that attracts and keeps talent. But these changes are also being driven by the need to address a changing workforce and generational differences in order to solidify employee loyalty, investment, and satisfaction.

One of the biggest changes in the last few years involves offering a lot more flexibility to employees in terms of selecting the types of benefits they want. A renewed focus on voluntary benefits is a big deal now, with employees choosing whether they want dental care, vision care, long-term disability, or long-term care, etc. Employees are willing to pay for those benefits they deem important.

Companies are now also focusing on generational differences that require a benefit strategy that utilizes flexibility, customization, and choice. Younger employees have different needs than their older counterparts, and an employee benefits package should reflect this. For example, according to a study by MetLife in 2010, younger employees (Gen X and Y – ages 21-45) see telecommuting, flex time, and job sharing more important than younger and older Baby Boomers. The younger generation wants a more balanced approach to work and life, and having access to these flexible benefits brings about a more loyal, satisfied workforce.

Younger Boomers (age 45-54) are more concerned about retirement. Employers, according to the study, should focus on educating them on how they might recover lost ground in retirement savings and provide access to voluntary benefits such as critical illness insurance that can help relieve financial stress. Older Boomers (age 55-65) are looking for solutions to close savings gaps and plan for an affordable retirement with financial planning tools and services. Incentives to participate in wellness and disease management programs is also important in helping to reduce the health and disability costs potentially associated with older workers. There are gym clubs teaming up with companies to offer wellness programs to employees.

Communication is critical in conveying the benefits that a company offers. Effective communication can make the difference between benefits that are understood and valued, and benefits that are overlooked and underutilized. But many employees don’t really understand what employers provide them, or don’t take advantage of what is available. Easy-to-read, visually appealing benefits statements are one way of accomplishing clear communication for employees, in addition to access to an HR person for ongoing information. Yet benefits communication also has to reflect how people receive information now, especially younger employees.

Social networking, mobile devices, and text messaging have to be incorporated into a comprehensive communications strategy to account for generational preferences. According to a study conducted by Mercer (“Inside the Employees’ Minds”) in 2011, “the youngest generation of workers is a tech-savvy, app-oriented, multitasking group that grew up with social networking and expects something different out of the work experience. They want a collaborative workplace, flexibility in how they work, regular interaction and feedback, and fairly immediate gratification for their efforts. They also want employers to communicate with them the way they prefer to communicate with others. This means heavy use of technology, delivering information in small chunks, creating ample visual interest and hitting just the right tone.”

These are just some of the changes in the benefits landscape. There are many more, such as offering added-value services, including programs for discounts on prescription drugs, savings on related health services (club memberships, for example), etc.

As an insurance agency or brokerage that offers employee benefits consulting and products, what changes have you been seeing taking place in this space? What additional services have you added to the portfolio of products you’re offering? Let us know – just write me at